JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars play the Denver Broncos in London on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+).
It’s the first game of a new three-year contract to play an annual home game at Wembley Stadium. The Jaguars are poised to reap a significant financial benefit. So, potentially, will the NFL in the future.
The Jaguars, who have full responsibility for the game and are overseeing operations, said they have sold more than 86,000 tickets for this year’s edition at the 90,000-seat stadium, which would make it the most-attended NFL matchup in the London international series that began in 2007.
Factoring in the current exchange rate, the team expects ticket revenue to be 40% higher than it is from the average 2022 regular-season home game at TIAA Bank Field.
Those are numbers the NFL will be eager to see because the league views the three-year arrangement as the latest step in the process of eventually having a permanent franchise in London.
“If you look back to 2007 when we first started playing international games, between then and now there’s been an evolution of a lot of different things in terms of how those games come together,” said Henry Hodgson, general manager at NFL UK. “We’ve played one game to start with each year. We’ve played more than one game. We’ve played games on back-to-back weekends. We’ve played games in different stadiums, and I think ultimately this is the latest evolution, if you like, of that process of playing international games and playing them in the U.K.
“And I guess to some extent or other it is to see what could we do if there was a franchise in the U.K.?”
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A permanent franchise in London has been discussed for years, and that idea was re-energized earlier this month when commissioner Roger Goodell said that while logistics remain a concern, he believes the city could support two NFL franchises.
“… From a fan perspective, a commercial standpoint, from a media standpoint I think [fans in the U.K.] have all proven that,” Goodell said while speaking at a fan event in the U.K. the day before the Green Bay Packers played the New York Giants at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “The question I think is going to come down to, not so much the logistics about travel, that’s clearly a challenge, it really comes down to whether you can do it competitively, where the team here or the teams in the States coming over can continue to be competitive, and that was the challenge when we did the regular-season games.”
The Jaguars played a home game in London’s Wembley Stadium from 2013 to ’19 and had planned to play two there in 2020 to increase their local revenue, but both were canceled because of the pandemic.
The Jaguars returned to London last season but played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, beating the Miami Dolphins 23-20 to snap a 20-game losing streak.
The team’s current three-year deal, which was approved by the league’s owners in March at their spring meetings, differs from the previous contracts because it allows the Jaguars to keep all revenue from the game. Each game will be played at Wembley Stadium.
This contract allows the Jaguars to significantly boost their local revenue. Revenue from previous London games at Wembley have accounted for 11-15% of the franchise’s local revenue.
“In the past, the league would have responsibility over all things such as ticket sales, ticket prices, things like that,” Jaguars president Mark Lamping said. “Now it’s all within our control. We know for a fact it’ll be the largest gate of any NFL game that’s ever been played in London in terms of ticket revenue. We are on a path that’ll be the largest crowd, the most tickets sold, for an individual game. And we’re anxious to see how the in-stadium spending numbers look. So that would be merchandise, food and beverage, but it’s done exceptionally well.”
The Jaguars would like to continue this arrangement with the NFL beyond the current deal, which expires after the 2024 season. That’s even after any hoped-for renovations to TIAA Bank Field – their home stadium in Jacksonville — are agreed to and completed within the next several years.
Lamping said the team has no plans at this time to play multiple games annually in London and is not actively seeking to play anywhere else internationally.
“I think we have been pretty consistent in that, you know, in a perfect world for us we will always have a presence in London,” Lamping said. “And we think that not only is that good for achieving our goals of a stable, strong NFL franchise that’s located in a small market in Northeast Florida, it has also been good for the city of Jacksonville. Every year the city does a trade mission around our game, and they’ve brought back hundreds and hundreds of jobs that have come from the U.K. to Jacksonville. That would not have happened had it not been for the introductions that we help facilitate and the work that the Chamber does.
“We think London is part of our DNA, and I think it makes it a lot easier given every other year we have an extra home game.”
The Jaguars have five full-time employees in the United Kingdom, have created a flag football league for children there called Jag Tag that has 90,000 participants and signed sponsorship deals with multiple U.K.-based companies – including Lycamobile, an international mobile virtual network operator.
There’s also Union Jax, a U.K. Jaguars fan club that surpassed 80,000 members in 2018 — the team has developed a loyal following.
“I picked to support the Jaguars years ago when I was getting into the NFL based solely on the fact they came to London every year, and it meant I always get to see them regardless,” said Curt Smith from Manchester, U.K. “My partner, who wasn’t into the NFL at the time and genuinely used to find it boring watching it on the TV, came along years ago to my first Jaguars game. The fact it was live – she was instantly hooked. It’s now one of her favorite weekends of the year, too.”
Ian Pointer lives in Farnborough, Hampshire, about 40 miles outside of London. He began following the Jaguars in 2000 when he was starting to watch the NFL. And he even made one trip to see the Jaguars play in Jacksonville in 2018.
“I’ll probably never get that chance again,” he said. “So, seeing the Jags every year is my Teal Christmas.”
All that, Hodgson said, is a positive for the NFL as well as the Jaguars.
“We are absolutely supportive of [the Jaguars continuing to play an annual game in London]. We want that to continue,” Hodgson said. “… Fans around the world, what we need to do is drive them to support an NFL team. That’s how you grow fandom.
“If the Jags can be part of that process with us and be playing here more often, inevitably there are going to be more fans that are going to be developed by that and become Jags fans and in turn become NFL fans. So I think it helps us tremendously to have a team like the Jags make that long-term commitment.”
Paul Macay, a Jaguars fan from St. Andrews, Scotland, doesn’t want to see a permanent franchise in London, however. Even though interest in the NFL has grown, he doesn’t believe fans would be willing to support seven or nine regular-season home games.
“The current international game format works well with each game being sold out with fans from all 32 teams attending each game,” he said. “A huge percentage of fans who attend the game travel a long way and make a weekend out of it. Many, including me, couldn’t justify the expense to be at games at least eight times a season, so any initial demand may diminish. I sincerely hope that the international series continues, and as long as the Jaguars are in town you’ll find me in a stadium seat shouting my support alongside all of my ‘Duuuval’ friends.”
The Jaguars hope to capitalize off the fans in London on Sunday vs. the Broncos. They are 4-4 in London all-time, although they’ve lost their last two at Wembley.